Maniac Attack

Any serious gambler knows that the most important fundamental of success is to find a way to get the odds in their favour.  Betting against the odds is a losing proposition.  Any serious Hold Em player knows that having position on a player is a massive advantage, and being out of position is quite the opposite, biasing the odds in the opponents favour.

So why the hell did I sit for about 2 hours last night on the immediate right of a maniac?

Put simply it was that I wanted to beat him, and there was a waiting list of about 10 players.  I didn’t want to throw away the opportunity of playing against such a rare beast, and in doing so I allowed myself to stay in the worst seat at the table.

To be fair to myself I was totally owning him for a while.  I had paid enough attention to see that he had an incredibly high 3-bet and squeeze rate, especially when the original raiser was in mid to late position. They were actually higher than his open raise rate.  I hadn’t seen much of his play post flop (because it didn’t usually get far through the hand before everyone else had folded), but I knew that he was ridiculously aggressive pre-flop.  The first hand we tussled on was very marginal and debatable as to whether I should have played it.  Perhaps not, but the thing was that I wanted to take advantage of the fact that I was unknown to him and I’d seen him wildly raise (and usually win or fold without showing) against new players to the table.  I didn’t want to wait too long for a premium hand just to see him fold because he thought I was a nit.

I raised from a late position with ATo and a one early limper.  Exactly as I expected, he quickly 3 bet and it was folded back round to me.  At this point I’m certainly not planning on folding and I don’t think I can really call, because I think I’m ahead of his range and I don’t want to give him a chance to either catch, or blow me off my hand with air and position.  I think I’m better getting the chips in now to maximise my thin value.   It was always the plan to out muscle him.  So I put in a moderate 4-bet, he 5-bets quickly and I shove, with a slightly sick feeling in my stomach that I shouldn’t have got myself into this position.  He quickly calls and shows A9s.  My 10 holds and I double up, putting him back down to just over 100 big blinds and leaving me with twice his stack.

For the next few hands that I raised, even though I was opening often, he became a lot tighter and folded most of them.  After a while though he realised that I was opening pretty wide and went back to his usual antics.  I tried to balance myself between folding and continuing when he 3 bet me which tightened up my opening range.  I didn’t want to 4 bet anywhere near as wide as ATo from then on because I knew he had been hurt by our first hand and had definitely paid attention.  I also knew he was capable of betting big with a medium strength hand but he would probably be quite balanced in that spot against me, as opposed to biased towards bluffing as he was against others at the table.

I took a few moderate pots off him either hitting or outplaying him after the flop but nothing massive, basically because we both knew the other was capable of big bets with a wide range and I felt we were both looking for spots to get it in with a premium hand.

I was outdrawn on by other players a couple of times which kept my stack in check and his aggressive play brought him up to my level.  He was still 3 betting me enough to allow me to get aggressive with slightly less than premium hands and he took a chunk of my stack with QQ against my JJ.

The killer blow came when I opened in late position with T9s.  I called his 3 bet and it went 2 handed into the flop which came T72, giving me top pair with a flush draw.  I felt confident he would bet with any two cards so I checked.  He put about two thirds of the pot in and I raised to about 2.5x his bet.  He thought for a while and re-raised not much more than the minimum.

At this point I thought that it was possible that I was behind but that more often I would be ahead.  Even if I was behind I knew that I had a decent amount of equity.  He had previously seen me check raise and give up on the flop to his 3-bet on a similarly innocuous board so I thought he could push with air.  The time he took to make the shove also gave me the impression he was more likely to be bluffing or semi bluffing because of his previous tendencies.

I couldn’t take over pairs out of the equation but didn’t think it would be the case most of the time.  Top pair with a better kicker was definitely a possibility but of course I had top pair which made it less likely.  Straight draws, even gut shots, and flush draws made up a big part of his range, or even just two over cards.  I took a moment and decided to shove.  He turned over AJs for the nut flush draw.  The flush didn’t come in but that was incidental once an ace hit the turn.

I was ahead when I shoved, but not by much: according to pokerstove I was a 52.3% favourite.  With the dead money in the pot I’m sure it was the right decision.

I’m not really that unhappy with my play, despite being up over two buy-ins and leaving the table one buy-in down.  The thing that gets me, the thing that I thought about when I was falling asleep last night, was the decision to play him in that position in the first place.  After the first hand I had doubled up from him and introduced a new dynamic.  He knew that he could play in position on almost every hand and he reacted well to my changes of gear.  That made life very difficult for me.

What I should have done is look at the long game.  If I had disappeared off the table straight after that hand he might not even have remembered me next time I sat down in position on him.  I will still make it my mission to find him at a table where I get decent position on him, but I could have done that right from the beginning.  Next time I find myself in terrible position to a maniac, I’ll think a few more times before I get comfortable.

On a more positive note I really feel like I’m starting to make a breakthrough.  For a long time I’ve been confused as to how better players than me can play 4 or more tables and still manage to analyse their opponents well enough to be able to find enough spots to exploit.  I feel like I have an increasingly good knowledge of how to think about different situations, but that I haven’t applied that knowledge well enough.  Multi-tabling leaves me languishing in ignorance and missing opportunities to make notes, and playing just a single table provides the challenge of remaining focused for long periods of time without playing very many hands, which I often struggle with.  

One thing that’s helped massively is my way of analysing hands and what they mean about the players who played in them.  Using Poker Tracker 4 allows me to mark hands for analysis at a later point, which I have been doing more liberally.  The critical factor is that I’m actually going through them all now! If I can make the notes on the fly then I do, but once I’ve got a reasonable number of hands built up I will sometimes sit out or take a break and go through them all before taking my seats again.

At the beginning of the month I went through a period of seriously cold cards.  I was playing single table tournaments on PokerStars, some of the time not playing very well, most of the time finding myself on the wrong end of coolers and getting out drawn.  I’ve had nasty runs like that before, but never so many in a row without a single cash.  That’s put a dent in my bankroll but my cash winnings have put it up to a little over $200.  I started with just $28 at the beginning of August, so it’s hardly amazing, but this is all about building my bankroll in the proper way.  At least it’s going in the right direction.

The fight continues…


Doing Their Betting: My Biggest Leak?

Since I last posted I’ve been making a bit of progress.   My bankroll is growing, but only slowly.  But that’s not what I want to talk about.

I think I might have discovered a major leak in my game.  Well, I say discovered, but I guess I always knew it was there. Well, I say always…

I find myself leaking far too many chips in situations where I’ve done the betting for my opponent when I’m behind.  That’s either where I’ve bluffed too far with air, or where I’m behind with a medium strength hand.  In far too many tournaments the significant hand in my downfall seems to be this sort of situation.

I have been aware for a long time that almost all the players who I identify as significantly better than me, are far better at knowing when to check it down and hope to see a cheap showdown.  They also seem to know when to give up a bluff.

I think I find it difficult to strike the balance between hitting value when it’s available and just staying in the pot when I’ve got a hand with showdown value.  Often I think it’s because I’m too scared to give up the lead and give my opponent an obvious opportunity to bluff me off the best hand.

So what does this say about me?  I think the main thing is that I’m not putting enough effort into properly putting a range on my opponent, and figuring out what hands of value I can beat.  Because of this I think that I’m not clearly defined enough in my own head as to whether some of my bets are for value or if they are a bluff.

I’m guilty of betting when I think I might be ahead, I don’t want to give a free card if I am, but I’m likely to only get action when I’m behind.  Stupid really.  No, that should actually read: REALLY STUPID.  Sorry for shouting, but it was directed at me, not you.  Unless you’re guilty too. 

I’ve played a few small buy-in single table tournaments to experiment with improving this aspect of my game.  I think a lot of my approach to these games is fairly sound at the level I play, but I never seem to make much from them in the long run.  I think partly that’s playing too many tables, so I’ve been playing two for these trials.  So far they seem to be going quite well, cashing in both, winning one, or even winning both.  But I’ve only had a few sessions and I need to do more.

I’m not going to be able to play for a few days, but when I get back to the virtual this has to be my major priority.

Hunt The Fish

Instead of going to the pub last night like I planned, I decided to stay in and get going on building my bank roll.  I started too quick out of the blocks, making assumptions too quickly about players.  Eagerness and poker are not usually the best of bed fellows.  Luck was definitely not on my side either and before I knew it I was three buy-ins down (remembering that I only began with five).  I steadied myself, gave myself a bit of a talking to and got back to some decent play.  I was an astounding $1 in the black by the time I powered down.

A side effect of the session is that I went broke in two of my accounts and increased on the third.  This leaves me in an awkward situation, as I didn’t want to deposit into any account unless that was balanced by a withdrawal from another.  I’m starting with such a tiny bankroll (now $29 after last nights blazing glory) that I’m loathe to withdraw down too small in any one account.  So I’m stuck with one account (iPoker) unless I deposit into some others.  I think I should just bite the bullet and invest a little, otherwise I’m going to be stuck in the dark.

“The map is not the territory” ~ Alfred Korzybski, Philosopher & Scientist

Everyone who plays poker on the internet has an idea in their head as to what’s available.  Many recreational players stick to just one site – the one they happened to sign up with first.  As they get better they learn to pick the best tables from that site, the ones that they can beat.  But the trouble is that just one site is frankly not enough if you’re going to get the best from what poker has to offer on the internet.  The table selection just isn’t good enough.

On the smaller end of the scale, networks don’t offer enough of a player pool to choose from.  The Microgamming network is a good example of this, where Ladbrokes poker languishes these days; you can wait all day for a decent table if all you can see is their list of cash tables.

With larger sites like PokerStars, I believe there are actually too many players, especially at the micro stakes cash tables.  When a bad player gets hit a few times he will often disappear to another table, sparking mass table jumping from good players and bad players alike.

Bad players on smaller sites however, who don’t use any other network, feel like the don’t have anywhere to go and are more likely to stay at the same table losing until they go broke.

“If you can’t find a table you can beat, you’re not looking hard enough.” ~ Me

Table selection and player selection are crucial for cash poker players, and only checking out a small percentage of what’s on offer by sticking to one site, could be massively affecting your bottom line.  The smarter and more aware players familiarise themselves with many networks and sites.  And that’s what you should do.  Yes Kid, you.

If you have at least one account with each of the major networks, and open them all up when you start your session, you can get a proper view of what’s there. 

Good tables will occur far more frequently on large sites, simply because of the numbers, but they won’t last as long.  Find a decent table on a smaller site and you might be able to stick there all night reaping the benefits.

I have to admit that I’m not good enough at this.  So this afternoon’s task is to ensure that I’ve got as wide a view of the tables on offer as possible by making sure I’ve got an up to date account with some money in it on all the networks that I want to play on.

How Not To Play Heads Up

The other night I played a low buy-in single table tournament on PokerStars.  I got down to the final two and despite finding myself on the wrong side of a couple of coolers when I had him covered, it was pretty much the easiest finish to a tournament that I ever had.  My opponent was fairly predictable in general and fell into patterns of behaviour.

The worst thing that he did was to give me the advantage on nearly every single hand. Because it was heads up, the small blind was also the button, being in position after the flop.  We both chose to play around the same amount of hands from the small blind, and therefore we were folding around the same as each other.  The difference was that when he did play from small blind he would always call rather than raise giving me the option to check and see the flop.  When I was in the small blind I would always put in a minimum raise rather than call.

The result of this pattern is that when I was out of position post flop, we were playing for the minimum possible.  When I was in position, the pot had been nearly doubled.  This gave me a huge advantage and I found myself quickly adding to my stack without really having to do too much.  The maths just worked for me.

Getting Holdem Manager Free With Everest Poker. Maybe.

At the moment things are clearly not going to plan, so I think I need to shake things up a bit. One of the ways of doing that is to force myself out of the rut of playing almost exclusively on PokerStars.  It occurred to me that if that’s the way I was going I should check out the ‘get it free’ options for Holdem Manager and start grinding that out of the equation. Everyone seems to rate it higher than Poker Tracker, but then Poker Tracker 4 hasn’t been out that long and is a massive improvement on version 3.

So I go to the Holdem Manager website and look at the list of sites that I can play at to get it free.  The only one that I don’t already have an account with is Everest Poker, so that’s the only choice.  For those of you who aren’t aware you can sign up with various sites through their links.  Once you’ve accrued a certain number of points you get the licence for the Holdem Manager software for free, rather than the $99 that they charge for the main version.

You know how first impressions are supposed to last?  Well Everest Poker has started pretty damn badly in that respect.  The software just refuses to install on my machine whatever I do, so I referred to the help pages.  Included on there as  a list of what information I should send to customer support, including all sorts of stuff like ISP, other software running, firewall etc.  I then sent off a request for help with all of those questions answered and detailing the various changes I had tried.

This morning I wake up to an email that basically says ‘We’re sorry you’re having troubles, could you please answer these questions before we send it to the technical team to help.’ And guess which list of questions that I had already answered was pasted in below. Brilliant.

Tournament Structures: Why Turbo Poker Tournaments Are A Lottery

It’s common knowledge amongst anyone who knows anything about tournament poker, that a tournament’s structure massively affects the balance between skill and luck involved in the game.  The ‘slower’ the tournament structure is, the more the skill of each player has a chance to prevail against the natural luck involved in the game, and of course the reverse is also true.

To illustrate the point let’s have a quick look at two extreme examples, starting with the fastest.  There are tournaments on some online sites that are entirely based on luck, where each player starts with just a few chips, so few that all players are forced by the antes to go all in on the first hand.  There is absolutely no skill that any player can employ, a true lottery where the world’s greatest players would have no advantage over the world’s worst.

At the other end of the spectrum there are the world’s biggest and best tournaments, where players start with large stacks and the blinds increase slowly.  For example the World Series Of Poker main event structure provides each player with a starting stack of 30,000 chips and an initial level of 50/100, with blind levels increasing every 2 hours. You can see that this is a very ‘slow’ tournament structure allowing for as much skill as possible within the game. Luck can never be eliminated, nor should it be, but it’s tournaments like these that really allow the cream to rise to the top.

This is not a new concept to me, but I have to admit that I haven’t been paying enough attention to the structure of the tournaments that I enter.  I made a decision some time ago to generally avoid ‘Turbo’ tournaments because too much luck is involved in comparison to skill.  However I really got thinking more on the subject when recently I started playing on the iPoker network again, more specifically with William Hill.  There are Sit & Go tournaments offered across the whole network with jackpot prizes increasing weekly for winning a number of tournaments in a row.  They demonstrate the significance of the luck factor in tournaments that ramp the blinds up quickly.

Name Buy-in Entrants Wins Jackpot Consolation** Current Total***
Dirty Dozen $2+0.40 12 4 $2,000 None $2,000
Maui $5+1 10 5 $15,000 + $6,000* $200  $15,000
Craze $10+2 18 4 $50,000 None  $50,000
Rio $20+3.50 6 6 $30,000 + $10,000* $300  $130,000
Fort Knox $50+9 6 6 $50,000 + $20,000* $750  $172,500

*Jackpot prize increases by this amount after one week of not being won, and then by “incremental” amounts, whatever that means!
**Consolation prize is awarded for the same number of consecutive 1st or 2nd finishes.
*** Current total at time of posting according to the William Hill website.

Notice that the fees attached to each of the buy-ins is up to 20% compared to the usual 10%, which is what pays for the jackpot prizes.

At first glance the jackpots look almost too good to be true.  It’s clearly not going to be easy to win any of them, but a good player attacking them consistently should have a good chance, and the rewards if you manage are large.

Well even though I’m not privy to all the numbers, I can guarantee you that they work out in favour of the house. Looking at the Maui Sit & Go as an example, each buy-in includes $0.50 towards the jackpot prize of $15,000. So for the house to be even they can tolerate one jackpot winner per 30,000 buy-ins, or one string of 5 wins in a row for a single player every 3,000 tournaments. That’s what they can tolerate, but I have no doubt that a profit is made. Part of that I’m sure is simply from keeping players on the network by supplying such promotions. You also have to remember that I’ve not included the consolation prizes that they need to pay out.

Personally I still find these numbers fairly appealing. Could I get 5 wins in a row on a tournament at that buy-in? I’m fairly confident that given some time and commitment I probably could. So why am I not spending all my poker time playing these tournaments to hit the jackpot?

The answer is simple, the tournament structure. To be honest I think it’s a little deceptive. It’s not ‘turbo’ exactly and it’s not classified as such, but it can also be considered to be pretty fast. 10 players start with 1,000 chips each, with the first level blinds at 10/20 as seen below, so that’s a starting stack of 50 big blinds. That doesn’t really appear to be too fast, but then you look at the later levels.

William Hill Sit & Go Maui Jackpot Tournament Structure iPoker Network

iPoker ‘Maui’ Sit & Go Jackpot Tournament Structure

So let’s say no-one is eliminated in the first 22 minutes. The average chip stack would of course still be 1,000 chips, and the the blinds would now be 30/60, that’s an average of less than 18 big blinds. That does start to look quite quick, but still not totally terrible.

Let’s eliminate 3 people across that fourth level and the next. After that we’re at 7 players, average stack of 1,428 and going into the 100/200 level. Suddenly we’re at an average stack of just 7 big blinds each. Players are forced to draw a line in the sand and shove their remaining stacks where in other tournaments they would not. Not only is there not enough time to wait for a good ‘spot’, the game becomes far too reliant on guessing, often with no options but to fold or shove, and with very little information on what your opponent is holding.

It is the significant size of the luck element that the iPoker network force into these Sit & Go jackpot tournaments, that allows them to have such large jackpots.  From their point of view the greater the amount of luck involved, the easier it is for them to predict the number of winners across a large selection of tournaments.

So what’s the moral of the story?  If you want to become a successful tournament player it is imperative that you pay close attention to tournament structures.  Merely choosing not to play in tournaments that have been classified by the house as turbo, is not enough analysis.

I also want to stress that I am not saying that you shouldn’t play in any turbo style tournaments.  Some people like that sort of structure and choose to play super aggressive from the start.  This usually ends up in one of two outcomes, either holding a large dominating stack, or being eliminated early on before too much time has been committed. There’s nothing wrong with playing in turbo tournaments, but you must understand what you are buying in for and adapt your play accordingly.  Waiting for good cards is turbo suicide.

There are three elements that affect the speed of a tournament:

  • Size of starting stacks
  • Time between each level increase
  • The amount the blinds and antes raise with each increase

Make sure that you pay attention to each of these elements and notice the average stack size in terms of number of big blinds, as the tournaments you play in progress.

Despite everything I’ve said in this post, I’m still somewhat tempted by the prizes on offer from the Sit & Go jackpot  tournaments, particularly those with weekly increasing totals, but I don’t believe that constantly playing them is the right way to approach them.

One element that should also be considered is that when I have played in them I often feel like it’s somewhat easier to get inside the heads of my opponents.  Players can often be categorised more easily than with other tournaments.  Some players who play them regularly seem to attack them hard when they don’t have any wins under their belt, willing to gamble to put themselves in a position where they are then closer to hitting the jackpot with a more considered approach for subsequent tournaments.  If you identify who these people are and also keep a track of the tournaments that have not long finished, you can often have a big advantage over them.

As a general rule of thumb though, I’m going to be sticking to slower tournaments with particular reference to larger starting stacks.  I have found that there are many large tournaments, with several thousand entrants, that appear to have a good structure.  When I’ve run deep in them I have found that the ratio between the average stack and the blinds becomes too small, meaning that most players left are put in a position where they have very little room to outplay their larger stacked opponents, and luck becomes a greater factor in those later stages.  That’s really not something that you want when you’ve got an average stack, committed several hours to the tournament, and the money is still some way from getting interesting.

Looking at PokerStars as an example, which I am playing on most at the moment, there are many tournaments with exactly the same structure in terms of blinds, but differing in starting stacks, with either 1,500 or 3,000 chips in front of you to start.

It can seem that the difference of 1,500 between these two figures is pretty small when you compare them to the size of stacks in the later stages of a tournament.  But you have to remember that all chips stay on the tables.  So if you start tournament A with an average of 3,000 chips compared to the identical tournament B with 1,500 chips, the average stack will always be double that of tournament B, however far you look down the line, not just 1,500 more.

A Rubbish Night

I’m going to (try to) keep this short.  On Thursday night I had my first losing session since starting the coaching with Nick.  Didn’t feel great but it wasn’t like it was a massive hit, about $40.  Last night I made that back on two low stakes soft tables on PokerStars in a matter of 26 minutes.  That made me feel pretty good because I could start the night of tournaments back at my standard bankroll.

Unfortunately, sometimes I am utterly rubbish at taking a step back and looking what I’m doing.  I spent the first half of the night falling into the same traps that I did on Thursday, multi-tabling without proper and considered thought, and being too eager to outplay my opponents and take them on.  It all felt a bit too frantic.  The second half of the night was spent trying to get back to where I started from and failing, in fact falling further behind.  My PokerStars bankroll has been virtually crippled.  I was in profit for my William Hill account (which I discovered on Thursday that I had £30 in that I didn’t know about – better than a fiver in the pocket!) and withdrew £20, more for my own psychology than anything else.   A regular flow of cash into my bank account is definitely a positive thing.  That leaves it with the £30 balance that I started with.

Today, I’m not quite sure how, I’ve managed to arrange it such that I can play all day and all night if I want to.  It’s Saturday, which means in theory there should be lots of soft tables and money to make.  My first goal is to replenish my PokerStars bankroll back up to my standard level, which at the moment is $100.  I’m not thinking about my second yet, that would be getting ahead of myself.

The plan is to take my time and take regular breaks.  I have to make considered decisions and make sure I don’t fall into that trap again.  Right, here goes…